Interview with Sky Thomas for BE.

This interview was originally published in BE. CURIOUS — CULTURE MAG issue #01.

Can you talk to me about your experiences growing up?

We’re really family-orientated. We moved around a lot, but we moved around with family. My dad played football all over Australia. I was born in Darwin, but wherever he could get work playing football we’d move around. We always stayed with family though. We’ve got family all over Australia, so we always had somewhere to stay.

A big part of Aboriginal culture is family. Because of that we have different priorities compared to my other friends. I missed school a lot, not because I wanted to, but because we’d have family funerals or something would happen in the family. Family is the highest priority.

Your basketweaving has been featured in the NGV, how did that start?

We ended up in Dandenong, living next to one of my Aunties. My Aunty was from the same tribe as my dad, Gunai, so she said, “Let’s teach her how to do traditional basket weaving”. So I would go to her house everyday and sit in the lounge room while she taught me how to basket weave.

It’s done with lake reeds—really thin, long lake reeds. I started doing that when I was four. I really enjoyed doing that because I got really good at it. I obviously sold those baskets [to the NGV] and had some really good stuff going on. But the reason I really enjoyed it is because, when I went to high school, I got to share it with others.

What was that like for you?

I went to a school where I was pretty much the first Aboriginal that anyone had ever met. I went to an all-girls private school. So a lot of them had misconceptions about Aboriginal people. Then, during Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week and Diversity Week, I got to do basketweaving workshops. I used that as an opportunity to let girls learn from me. I could tell them where I come from, where my family is, and break down those negative stereotypes.

A lot girls were pretty standoffish with me at that school. They thought I was aggressive, because that was their preconception about Aboriginal people. So I got to say, no that’s not the way we are. A lot of them would ask about dot paintings. My dad’s tribe, Gunai, which is down where Lake’s Entrance is, are lines people. A lot of our artworks are done with just pure lines. We don’t use dots at all.

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What do you do to promote and educate others about your culture now?

I like to educate people whenever I have the chance. Right now I work at Dandenong Council. Having me there, just alone, has opened a lot of stuff up. We have a NAIDOC day in town, but we’ve never been in the main square. When we got to have it there, we had a lot of non-Indigenous people who were just passing through. Then they got to take part in the day as well—and that’s one of the main things I wanted.

We’re here. We’re not just three people; we’re here. We wanted people to see that. We wanted positive representation. We had dancing, we had art workshops. I was really proud of that event. It was the most amount of people they’ve ever had in that square.

When do you feel most connected to your culture?

Just being around family. You don’t have to do something specifically Aboriginal. We have a lot of sport carnivals, and everyone from all over Victoria comes for a weekend. So there’s a lot of family. We don’t go there to play sport, we go for family and friends. I feel most connected when I’m around them. When I have that wider, bigger community of people who love and support me.

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